The bounty of the warmer months strained the branches of our little plot’s chilli and tomatillo plants, and last week we said goodbye to them as we moved from our house to a little flat in Sydney. I do wonder what the next tenants will make of my habanero plants, and the terror they may inflict. Curiosity may well kill the cat yet, or at least her owner.
Stranger still they might find these beautiful tomatillos, hanging like lanterns from spindly branches, entwined amongst splintered stakes. I collected all that I could of my first ever harvest, and have put them to good use since.
The tomatillo (AKA miltomate, AKA tomato verde) is a member of the nightshade family along with chilli, potato, aubergine, tobacco and of course tomato. It is more closely related to the Chinese gooseberry than the tomato, though its pulpy seedy flesh does bare quite a resemblance to the latter, if not in colour than in texture.
It’s tart, piquant flavour lends itself well to lighter and more delicate dishes; it marries well with chicken, seafood and creamed sauces. It is often married with pork, when its acidity is used to cut the meat’s fattiness.
Two simple uses follow. I've constructed a little memelita topped with black bean puree and chicken in tomatillo sauce, topped with Arból salsa. For more on the memelita, look here.
Pollo en Salsa Verde
Shredded chicken in a lightly spiced tomatillo sauce
Makes 10 memalitas
200g shredded chicken
1 red Jalepeño chilli, seeds removed
2 whole allspice
2 clove garlic
a pinch of ground cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
nearly a teaspoon of salt
1 small white onion, finely diced
- Place the tomatillo, chilli, allspice and garlic In a medium sized saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer till soft. Use a slotted spoon to remove into a blender jug and add a little of the liquid. Add thyme, cumin and salt and blend till smooth. It should have a runny consistency.
- While still warm, pour over the shredded chicken and stir through. Add a little more of the reserved water if needed.
- Add diced white onion and let sit for half an hour before use.
Salsa de Arból
Fiery arbol chile sauce with tomatillo
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
10-15 chiles de arból
1 small clove garlic
water, as needed
½ teaspoon salt
- After wiping the chilies clean, warm them gently in a pan with the vegetable oil. Fry the chilies softly until they are lightly fragrant (30-60 seconds).
- Toast the tomatillos slowly on a comal or skillet, turning occasionally to ensure even cooking. Some blackening is desirable.
- Place the chilies in the blender jar with the tomatillos, garlic and salt and enough warm water as is needed to cover them. Let sit for ten minutes, in which time the chilies will soften.
- Blend until smooth, and then check seasoning.